by Immanuel Wallerstein Released: 15 Aug 2007
The concept of nuclear non-proliferation has been in trouble since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. If the initial shock led to much sentiment worldwide to banish somehow this weapon, this sentiment has been losing support ever since. The concept did limp along for 62 years, which is pretty long, considering how improbable it always was that any country would renounce access to powerful weapons that other countries possessed. However, the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative, officially announced on July 27, 2007, can be considered the final nail in the coffin of a hopeless idea.
The whole history of nuclear weapons has been one of fear of the others. In the summer of 1939, even before the Second World War had started, Leo Szilard, a leading physicist, was deeply concerned that Nazi Germany would build atomic bombs and do so far faster than the United States. He noted that Germany had already stopped the export of uranium from German-occupied Czechoslovakia. He persuaded Albert Einstein to write his famous letter to Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which Einstein brought this situation to the president's attention and suggested that the U.S. government urgently assist research in this field.
This led to the Manhattan Project, in which throughout the war nuclear scientists worked on the production of an atomic bomb. Germany never succeeded in solving the technical problems of doing this, but the United States did. On July 16, 1945, two months after Germany had surrendered, the Manhattan Project conducted the so-called Trinity Test at Los Alamos, the first controlled nuclear explosion ever. The United States had the bomb.
The United States was still at war with Japan. Japan was not at that time developing nuclear weapons. The question was whether or not the bomb should be used in the war with Japan. As we know, President Truman decided to drop two bombs, one on Hiroshima on August 6 and one on Nagasaki on August 9. The Japanese offered to surrender on August 10. There has long been debate as to why the United States dropped the two bombs. The official explanation is that it shortened the war and thereby saved U.S. lives. It is no doubt true that, by shortening the war, it saved U.S. lives -- at the cost obviously of many Japanese lives.
The timing has always been suspicious. We know that the Soviet Union had pledged to enter the war against Japan exactly three months after the war with Germany ended. The Germans surrendered on May 8, and therefore the Soviet Union was scheduled to declare war on Japan on August 8, which it did. The bomb on Hiroshima was dropped on August 6. It seems plausible to suggest that one of the messages of the timing was from the United States to the Soviet Union: We have the bomb -- which works -- and you don't. So beware!
In his statement to the American people on August 6, Pres. Truman said that Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed in 1940 on a joint program of nuclear development, and therefore he was sharing technology with Great Britain about the atomic bomb. At this point, Great Britain became the second nuclear power. The United States sought to stop proliferation there. The Soviet Union obviously did not agree, and in 1949 it achieved its first atomic explosion and then a hydrogen bomb explosion in 1953. The world had entered into the period of MAD -- mutually assured destruction. This "balance" between U.S. and Soviet capacities has been credited by many for the fact that the so-called cold war never became a hot war.
Both the United States and the Soviet Union would have been quite happy to have proliferation stop there. This did not at all suit the most rambunctious powerful ally of each one -- France and China. They both thought it essential to obtain nuclear weapons as a mode of holding their more powerful ally in political check. France's first explosion was in 1960 and China's in 1964. The world had reached the point where all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council possessed nuclear capability. The five proceeded to try to stop proliferation there.
In 1968, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed by a large number of countries. The treaty "recognized" the five members of the Security Council as nuclear powers. It provided that it would come into effect when the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and 40 other countries ratified it, which occurred in 1970. Eventually France and China would ratify the treaty in 1992 and at its height a maximum of 187 countries ratified this treaty.
The NPT had three pillars: (1) The five "recognized" nuclear powers pledged not to help in any way any other country to become a nuclear power; (2) The same five countries pledged to take steps towards effective disarmament; (3) all other countries received the promise of assistance with the peaceful uses of atomic energy.
None of these provisions has been well-respected. First, while the "recognized" five may only occasionally have directly helped other powers to become nuclear states, these other states could and did seek to do it on their own. Secondly, no significant disarmament has occurred. Quite the contrary. The five "recognized" powers have expanded their nuclear arsenals, and in particular the United States. And the third provision about the peaceful uses of atomic energy has become extremely controversial, since the United States has come to consider this a loophole which permits "other" countries to proceed far down the path to nuclear development without impediment.
In any case, as we know, three countries refused ever to sign the NPT -- India, Pakistan, and Israel. All three developed nuclear weapons. In theory, the United States took measures to punish India and Pakistan (which have never denied their nuclear development). It has always been silent about Israel (which has never admitted its nuclear development, although everyone is aware of it). In 2003, North Korea withdrew from the NPT and then admitted to being a nuclear power.
The United States claims that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and there is much reason to believe this is so. There have been ambiguous statements in the past few years from a large number of other countries which seem either to be already in the process of developing such weapons or about to launch such projects. As for the latest treaty between the United States and India, it offers considerable assistance by the United States to India in the sphere of peaceful development, without however constraining India in any way from further development of nuclear weapons. In this way, it clearly is rewarding, as opposed to punishing, India. And the correct interpretation everyone is giving this treaty is that, when it suits its political objectives, the United States will not oppose proliferation. So why should anyone else restrain themselves?
The Romans had a saying: De mortuis nihil nisi bonum dicandum est. Speak not ill of the dead. Non-proliferation is dead -- nihil nisi bonum!
Immanuel Wallerstein, Senior Research Scholar at Yale University, is the author of The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World (New Press).
Copyright ©2007 Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global
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